We all know that an effective training programme is only half the story. A good diet is equally important and that’s especially the case for fitness modelling professionals. So we spoke to Esquared founder, IFBB pro Figure and WBFF Fitness Modelling & Figure champion Eleni Plakitsi about her approach to nutrition in the run up to a competition.
What are your key nutrition goals when you’re preparing for a competition?
My main aim is to build muscle and reduce fat, since the more muscle you have the more efficiently you’ll burn fat. I achieve this with a focus on healthy eating with clean ingredients. I start with a more relaxed approach to my prep and progressively increase strictness as the competition draws closer.
What are the foods you eat – and avoid?
I focus on a balance of clean proteins, complex carbohydrates and healthy fats. I eat 5 times per day consisting of 3 main meals and 2 snacks, consuming the majority of my carbs in the morning or with my first 2 meals. For the remaining three meals of the day I’ll reduce the ratio of carbs in favour of a higher proportion of proteins and fats. As for foods to avoid, well I love cheese but give it a miss as it’s high in calories and fat.
Do you eat at set times of the day?
I aim to eat every 3 hours to keep my metabolism at its optimum level and my body fuelled – and always within an hour of my workout to support muscle recovery and growth. It’s essential to be organised to keep your diet on track, so I prepare meals in advance rather than individually which means I always have food ready when I’m hungry.
So what do you actually eat?
For breakfast I’ll have oats and a protein shake to get the carbs and protein I need to fuel my body for the workouts ahead. I also love protein pancakes – they are so easy to make and taste amazing. I recommend using casein protein as it’s creamier and works best for pancakes.
Then for lunch and dinner I’ll generally have grilled fish with salad, then snack on chicken while a protein shake with fruit or nuts provide healthy fats. I’ll have one more ‘relaxed’ meal each week – usually a lean steak with chips. I also love burgers but not in the weeks before a competition!
Any tips for keeping meals interesting?
I use a variety of fresh and dried herbs along with low calorie and sugar dressings and sauces like low fat mayo, mustard or peri peri. But as the competition draws closer and I’m getting really focused on the end goal I’m OK with eating a strict and plain diet!
How does your competition prep diet differ from your everyday approach to eating?
My competition diet is much stricter than my everyday one. Being Greek I was raised on a Mediterranean diet with lots of fresh vegetables and clean proteins, but life is for living! So I take an 80/20 approach where 80% of the time I eat clean, healthy yet enjoyable meals then indulge myself for the other 20% of the time.
That way I don’t feel restricted or exclude any particular food groups – if I want to enjoy something, I can. I’m conscious of the mental impact of completely banning foods from your diet. Instead, I find that knowing I can eat a meal if I wanted but then choose not to, I don’t end up craving it.
How do you curb your cravings to stay on track?
Consuming enough protein and carbs to fuel my body helps to keep cravings in check. Otherwise, some chicken breast or a low calorie soft drink, pre-workout drink or protein shake works too. Sometimes though you just have to indulge your cravings and then move onwards and upwards. That means having a small portion of ‘cheat food’ then hitting the gym!
What about your goals in terms of physique?
I’ve worked closely with my coach to design routines that build the muscles in my back and shoulders. The best exercises are wide grip pull ups and lat pull downs. I also worked on slimming my waist by focusing on oblique abs workouts. The two in combination help to create the ‘V’ shaped torso you need for competition. I also work on building strong and lean legs which I train twice a week: one day of heavy weights and the other of lower weights yet higher reps to work my glutes and hamstrings.
What are the most challenging aspects of your preparations?
The biggest thing is making sure I have enough energy to complete my workouts. Muscle recovery in between training sessions, and the danger of your diet getting a bit boring are also big challenges. That’s when I really focus on my goals, how I want to perform and how far I’ve come.
And the most enjoyable?
Most definitely the journey. Competing on the stage is what you’ve worked towards, but you can’t be more interested in winning than you are in the process. That’s when you learn what your mind and body are capable of, when you develop discipline and a strong mind. Plus, seeing the physical results is really motivating.
Competing also offers an amazing opportunity to meet some incredible people. We can all support each other on this journey as we understand exactly what we’re all experiencing. I’ve made some great friends all over the world who I love catching up and working out with when I travel overseas or they visit London.
How do you balance your social life with your preparations?
I enjoy a great social life as a lot of my friends are also into fitness. I’ll still go out and enjoy myself, just without the glass of wine with dinner and making sure that I eat as healthily as possible: steakhouses, fish restaurants and I love Japanese food too. I’ve also learnt not to be afraid to be specific about the food I order to get the meal that fits into my nutrition goals. Some of my favourite restaurants in London include Hawksmoor, Bentley’s Oyster Bar & Grill, Sushi bars, Milos Greek restaurant & Nandos!
What advice would you give to anyone looking to get into fitness competitions?
You need to be aware of the level of commitment and the challenges involved. You have to be willing to work hard and be prepared to make sacrifices. I’d highly recommend finding a coach to advise you where you need to focus on building muscle and stripping fat, as well as planning your workouts without overtraining. A great coach will also be a huge help when it comes to nutrition and meal planning.
And finally, take us through your titles
Well I’ve really enjoyed my competition career. At the same time, I have also worked incredibly hard to win all the competitions I’ve entered including the WBFF Fitness Modelling & Figure Competition, which included the Diva Fitness Model Title in medium class and overall, Figure Champion in the medium category and Overall Figure Winner. I also came first in Fitness Modelling UK Fame Fitness Model and won the IFBB Greek Figure Competition, which was where I earned my Pro Card.
Eleni + Exercise = Esquared
It was the need to train at different gyms on different days that inspired Eleni to create Esquared, the UK’s first on demand fitness app. Now you can enjoy working out and taking classes at a wide range of London’s highest quality gyms, whenever and wherever it fits in with you. Download the free Esquared app today.